Mr. Tanner’s Motorcycle

While mowing grass one summer, I was listening to my hand-me-up iPod (a grandson’s device, passed up to the older generation when better ones ,that only young people can understand and operate, came along) and an old song from the 1970’s came up on the shuffle. “Mr. Tanner”, by Harry Chapin is the story of a dry cleaner from the Midwest who “also was a baritone who sang in local shows”. In the story, Mr. Tanner is convinced by his admiring friends to use his gift professionally and  the performance  goes sadly wrong, with the  big city critics unimpressed, leaving him to return to his shop and his local fans a defeated man. The lyrics describe, “When questioned by his friends,  he smiled and just said nothing, but he never sang again….. Excepting very late at night, when the shop was dark and closed, he sang softly to himself, while sorting through the clothes”. The chorus, the message of the song went,

“Music was his life, it was not his livelihood.
It made him feel so happy, it made him feel so good.
He sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole.”

Being who I am, I immediately began contemplating the connection to motorcycles. (Not the one where I sing loudly in my helmet. Unlike Mr. Tanner, I know my voice is far from professional grade and I won’t attempt to foist it off on anyone else.) The connection I had in mind was the part where it did not matter to him how well he sang, “it just made him whole”. No matter how well he sang, whether it was professional quality or not, it completed something in him, something that just couldn’t be suppressed or denied and without which, he wasn’t fully himself. Motorcycling does that for me.

Those of us who love to ride range greatly in our skills, for riding and working on and understanding motorcycles. Very few of us qualify as consummate professional quality riders, as a quick glance at any MotoGP, ISDE or professional Trials event will illustrate. No one in their right mind is ever going to confuse me with Malcolm Smith or Kenny Roberts or whoever that stunt guy was who jumped the BMW cruiser over the helicopter in flight. (My jump would have been much more spectacular than his, as wafer-thin slices of rider and motorcycle rained down on the spectators below….but it would have been a one-take shot with no chance for a repeat performance.) My lack of stellar talent doesn’t change the way it makes me feel when I’m operating a bike, be it on or off road. It makes me whole.

I knew the first time I took a ride on the back of a running motorcycle, at the age of 10 nearly 60 years ago, that this was meant for me to do, to be a part of, much as Mr. Tanner must have done when first he let fly with his baritone notes in the shower. I cannot imagine life without it.


About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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